We are living in an important moment when all fields of human endeavor can contribute to the evolution of consciousness…
Awakening, which historically was the focus of a small minority, is now available to people in all cultures. It is important to recognize awakening as the next natural stage of human development for our planet to survive and thrive. We are in need of both activists and contemplatives and, most of all, contemplative activists. As Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., showed us, when we start with peace in our own hearts, we can act more courageously to create peace in the world.
Experts in the fields of science and spirituality, who have been mostly at odds with each other for centuries, are now joining in public dialogues and even common ventures (despite fundamentalists in both camps). Some scientists are changing their long-held assumptions about the human mind as a result of research on meditation and brain scans of spiritual practitioners. At the same time, some spiritual practitioners are beginning to go beyond the insular beliefs of their doctrines to open their minds and practices to recent scientific studies, with some even participating in research. On a number of occasions when the Dalai Lama was asked what he would do if scientific studies invalidated his beliefs, he replied that he would simply change his beliefs.
Most of the early explorers of awakening were associated with a particular religious tradition. Upon awakening, these inner astronauts described their experiences in their own cultural or religious languages. Because similar discoveries were made in many cultures and religions, it seems clear that something common in human consciousness is being explored. Awakening is part art, part science, and a good deal of mystery. Once we learn the principles of upgrading our common human consciousness, we see that awakening has observable principles and patterns and is both teachable and learnable. Awakening may seem new, but it has been recognized by meditation masters for millennia, and what is awakened to is known as open-hearted awareness, unity consciousness, spirit, grace, Self, no-self, true nature, source, the ground of being, and life itself. In the twenty-first century, there may be opportunities to describe this dimension of reality in a new, common language.
Awakening is possible for you. It may sound like a big, esoteric thing—especially when you are having a bad day. We are all imperfect. That is not going to change, but neither is the fact that we can realize that who we are is already unconditional love itself. Today there is a potential for a new stage of human development that combines awakening and growing up. It’s clear you can only grow up to a certain level unless you awaken, and it’s also important to mature psychologically while awakening. No matter how advanced we get spiritually, the goal is not to transcend being human.
In order to awaken, you don’t have to leave your life, go to a cave, become an Olympic-level meditator, or take on any set of religious beliefs. Regardless of your belief system or your spiritual affiliation or non-affiliation, you can begin awakening in the midst of your daily life. You don’t even have to wait until you’ve gotten your life together. In fact, if you’re looking from your small self and small mind, you’ll never feel good enough or prepared enough. Most adults are ready. Chances are if you’re reading this article, you’re ready. If you’ve had practice concentrating, completing tasks in school and at work, and forming relationships, you’ve grown up enough to wake up and learn to live from open-hearted awareness.
Awakening is about relieving suffering and increasing well-being through a shift of identity and knowing. We all have frustrations and sufferings at all levels of our physical, mental, and emotional life. There are different ways to approach these problems. However, the suffering addressed in awakening is a very particular type of suffering—a pervasive confusion and a perpetual dissatisfaction caused by the habit of recreating a separate sense of self.
Awakening addresses the root cause—not just the symptoms of craving, hatred, anxiety, loneliness, and depression. Although physical and emotional pain are legitimate suffering and normal parts of human life, suffering from our mistaken identity is optional.
In this direct approach, which has been so profoundly helpful to me, awakening begins with a direct recognition but then has a gradual unfolding. It is not instant enlightenment or an escape from the human condition. A teacher cannot give it to you, and it cannot be found in a book. The main role of a teacher is to point you toward your own inner teacher. Ultimately, who you are is already open-hearted awareness, and yet realizing this often takes a journey and growing pains. However, just glimpsing your basic nature can be a profound shift in itself.
The awakening process often begins with an initial waking-up from a small separate sense of self and into awake awareness. Then it continues with waking-in to include and know our body, thoughts, and emotions from nonconceptual knowing and abiding. The third stage, waking-out, involves creating and relating from open-hearted awareness. Each stage brings its own liberation. Waking-up leads to freedom from the fear of death. Waking-in leads to freedom from the fear of life. And waking-out leads to freedom from the fear of love.
Realizing that we can shift out of our small separate sense of self and into open-hearted awareness is as important a revolution today as the recognition that the Earth revolves around the sun was in the seventeenth century. It is time for a revolution of consciousness that will help us see our interconnectedness and give us new motivation for the compassionate activity that will benefit all creatures and our planet.